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High-Stakes Testing: Cheating Children

April 4, 2012

The Atlanta Journal Constitution has been hitting it out of the park with their investigative reporting into the cheating scandal in and around the Atlanta, GA area.

Here is another excellent article coming from AJC, this time in regard to the harm that high-stakes testing causes on our students.  Let me be the first to say that from the time I graduated from my Masters and began teaching I have been ideologically opposed to high-stakes testing.  I saw through the veil of the reformers who put forth the testing regimens as a “straw-man” setup.

I call it a straw-man because to me it was foreseeable that what would happen was that sooner or later the “data” that was being collected was going to be turned around and used against teachers.  It was going to be used against Teacher Unions and it was going to be used to label those of us who work hard in classrooms each and every day as “clinging to the status quo.”  That is exactly what has happened.

Follow me below for more from the article and comments:

Please check out the link to FairTest immediately below this sentence, it is an interesting place to visit.

The folks at FairTest have been raising the alarm about excessive testing and its impact on education long before most people.

Here is a response to the AJC investigation into nationwide disparities in test results from Robert Schaeffer, public education director of FairTest: the National Center for Fair & Open Testing

By Robert Schaeffer

Across the U.S., the politically mandated misuse of standardized tests is damaging public schools and the children they serve. The Atlanta Journal Constitution’s investigation of suspicious test scores around the nation is just the latest example. Experts may debate the methodology, but there is no question that cheating on standardized exams is widespread. In just the past three academic years, FairTest has documented confirmed cases of test score manipulation in 33 states plus the District of Columbia.

These scandals are the predictable result of over-reliance on test scores. As the renowned social scientist Donald Campbell concluded more than 30 years ago, “The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor.” Campbell continued, “[W]hen test scores become the goal of the teaching process, they both lose their value as indicators of educational status and distort the educational process in undesirable ways.”

Ladies and gentleman, read that quote and then go back and read it again: “The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor.”  Rhetorical question alert: Did Donald Campbell absolutely hit the cover off the ball with that prescient quote?  Holy Cow!  What a perfect quote which has really come to fruition in the past few years.

Testing experts have long recognized this problem. Their professional standards for educational assessment warn against relying on tests as the sole or primary factor to make high-stakes decisions.

Enhanced test security may reduce the number of reported problems. A real solution, however, requires a comprehensive overhaul of federal, state and local testing requirements. President Obama, Secretary Duncan and many governors regularly issue high-sounding statements about assessment reform. At the same time, the federal government is adding incentives for cheating by ratcheting up the emphasis on standardized exam scores. Many state officials are going along to win federal funds. Initiatives such as “Race to the Top” and the criteria for waivers from “No Child Left Behind” escalate the role of annual high-stakes annual testing. New requirements to assess teachers based on their students’ scores, in particular, virtually guarantee even more cheating will take place.

Between you and me, I cannot tell the difference between Race to the Top and bribery.  I really can’t, or you may even call it blackmail.  I mean, Duncan is saying, you do more high-stakes testing and now add Value-Added testing to the mix, or you don’t get Federal financing relief.  That is borderline criminal.

These policies contradict the findings and recommendations of Incentives and Test-Based Accountability in Education, released last year by the National Research Council of the National Academies of Science. That study’s distinguished panel of experts concluded that high-stakes testing has not improved educational quality.


Cracking down on cheating is necessary but far from sufficient. The reports by the Georgia Office of Special Investigators should be a national model of “best practices” for detecting and responding to testing irregularities. Unfortunately, educational bureaucrats may have vested interests in protecting current policies and personnel. Comprehensive reviews by independent law enforcement professionals are often necessary. Combined with the full range of forensic detection tools – including analyses for high numbers of erasures, unusual score gains, and patterns of similar responses – this approach has proven most likely to root out the truth.

More policing and better after-the-fact investigations will not, however, solve the many problems caused by the misuse of standardized exam scores. Instead, high-stakes testing requirements must end. They cheat students out of a high-quality education and cheat the public out of accurate information about school quality.

I am hopeful that there is a grassroots movement afoot to push back against Duncan, RttP, teacher-attacks and high-stakes testing.  Hey, a guy can hope…right?


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